Exploring America's Byways

5 great road trips across the country

By John K. Hawks

Fifteen days on the road — with a 15-year-old teenager.

While the mere idea might scare less hardy souls, Dorothy Thomas reports that her recent tour along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail with her grandson, Zachary, brought them closer together.

[photo photo2 align=right max-width=100]"He lives in New York, and I'm in San Diego," she says, "so I chose this tour to spend time with him before he went off for college. Two weeks' worth of Lewis and Clark history on this trip might not sound interesting to everyone, but we thoroughly enjoyed it."

Not only did Zachary win his tour group's history trivia contest, but he based his college admissions essays on those motorcoach adventures with his grandmother!

You can create your own memories by taking your grandkids on a road trip along one of America's National Scenic Byways. Whether your grandkids prefer nature, history, outdoor fun, or animals, you'll find many different routes that fit the bill. Here are four one-day drives, and one weekend route, to explore.

Outback Scenic Byway, Oregon

[photo photo3 align=left max-width=100]This 170-mile drive will captivate your grandchildren as it winds through some of America's most unusual geologic wonders. Start your trip about a mile north of Lakeview — the hang gliding capital of the West — to watch Old Perpetual, Oregon's only continuously spouting geyser, which erupts every 90 seconds. Half an hour away Abert Rim, North America's largest exposed geologic fault, rises over the valley and the briny waters of Abert Lake. Hike and fish in the Summer Lake Wildlife Area before driving to the natural stone promontory of Fort Rock to explore obsidian flows and cinder cones that mark the remains of ancient volcanoes. A prehistoric eruption created the byway's final stop, a nearly circular crater called — appropriately — Hole in the Ground.

Connecticut River Byway, New Hampshire and Vermont

[photo photo4 align=right max-width=100]As you trace the course of New England's longest river, you'll follow the footsteps of Native Americans, colonial settlers, and Revolutionary War soldiers. It's a day trip up either side of the river, and another day to return along the opposite bank. On the New Hampshire side, you'll find the 1700s captured at The Fort at No. 4 Living History Museum in Charlestown. At the Cornish home and studio of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of America's most famous sculptors, you and the grandkids can learn how to cast and make molds in workshops for ages 13 and up. Vermont offers a restored train station — complete with an "iron horse" locomotive engine — in White River Junction; the state's oldest public meeting house in Rockingham; and, a chance for your grandkids to get their hands dirty with the animals at the Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock. Straddling the Connecticut River in the middle of the byway is the perfect spot for a family snapshot: the Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge, America's longest, wooden covered bridge.

A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway, Florida

[photo photo5 align=right max-width=100]Capture the sights and sounds of nature on this 72-mile drive that runs along a barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway in northeastern Florida. From Ponte Vedra Beach in the north to Flagler Beach in the south, the day-long drive will take you past estuaries and preserves where herons, ospreys, pelicans, and seagulls thrive. Your grandkids can explore sandy stretches of beach and watch for dolphins and whales offshore.

[photo photo6 align=left max-width=100]Plan to stop in St. Augustine for lunch, a tour of the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, and a walk through the restored Castillo de San Marcos fort. Farther south, Marineland, the world's first oceanarium, offers a variety of programs for kids to get up close and personal with dolphins.

Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway, Minnesota

[photo photo7 align=right max-width=100]Escape into the North Woods with your grandchildren on this 47-mile, three-hour drive, where you'll encounter more trees than people. From Grand Rapids, Minn., you'll pass meadows and lakes on your way into Chippewa National Forest, filled with aspen, birch, oak, and sugar maples. The mixed hardwoods forest makes this route a perfect option for fall getaways to see the vivid foliage. More bald eagles live in this forest than anywhere else in the country. You can camp, fish, and hike in the warmer months, or teach your grandkids how to make snow angels during the winter. The byway ends in Effie, Minn., home of the North Star Stampede Rodeo in late July.

Santa Fe Trail, Colorado & New Mexico

[photo photo8 align=left max-width=100]This byway carves out 188 critical miles through Colorado and New Mexico for a long weekend trip. Near La Junta, Colo., your grandkids can explore Bent's Old Fort, a reconstructed fur trading post for trappers and Plains Indians. Further west is the Santa Fe Trail Museum in Trinidad, Colo., a Wild West town where Bat Masterson and Billy the Kid once walked the streets. The official Santa Fe Trail Interpretive Center and Museum lies across the border in Springer, N.M. More than a hundred years after the pioneers headed west, you can still see their wagon ruts in the grass surrounding the Fort Union National Monument near Watrous, N.M.

[photo photo9 align=right max-width=100]While there's no guarantee that your grandkids will write about these trips in their college applications — as Dorothy Thomas's grandson did — you'll have the chance to enjoy quality time with them on the road. Thomas says, "I've taken lots of tours over the years, but I'll never forget spending those days with my grandson on the trail."

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